Entrepreneurial Freedom and Responsibility

I worked as an employee only once in my life. In 1992 I had a part-time job at a small independent retail store, earning $6/hour. It didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t want to have another job — ever. It wasn’t that it was a bad experience per se… I just felt it would be better to be the boss instead of a minion. (At the very least, the boss always gets more hit points). So at that point, I made the decision not to be an employee again. I was going to have to find another way to earn a living.

Next I tried working as an independent contractor doing game programming and eventually running my own game development business working on games contracted by larger publishers. I eventually realized that wasn’t for me either. I gained the freedom of setting my own hours, but my publisher clients became my defacto bosses. I often had to adapt to their (frequently unwise) decisions, and my financial future was tied closely to theirs. Next!

I later changed business models and got into developing and selling shareware, which is really a direct sales business. After I built enough direct sales to achieve a stable income base, I also did some licensing to bring in extra royalty income. That I liked. I was making money even while I slept. I’m still making monthly income off games I created as far back as 10 years ago. They were designed for Windows 3.1 and have never been upgraded, not even for Windows 95. But new customers still buy them (and the newer games) every month.

I know the entrepreneurial / passive income route isn’t for everyone. But the freedom aspect is really nice. You get to be in complete charge of your own time. You decide which projects to tackle. You can work whatever hours you want. You don’t have to ask permission from anyone for any decisions you make or actions you take. There’s just no substitute for holding the reins.

Some people think all this freedom is the best part of being an entrepreneur. But that freedom is a double-edged sword. If you abuse it, you get into trouble. Initially you may enjoy the freedom of sleeping in late and taking 2-hour lunches. But then you see that overusing that freedom will hurt your business. Your personal weaknesses turn into bottlenecks for your business. If you don’t have much self-discipline, you learn to develop some. If you have a tendency to procrastinate, you learn to overcome it. So the extra freedom actually helps you sculpt your character. There are few jobs that do this character sculpting to the same degree because most jobs don’t directly link your personal productivity to actual bottom-line business results and pay you accordingly. A job can shield you from the full effects of both freedom and responsibility. If you slack off for a day, you still get the same paycheck.

It takes time to learn to balance freedom with responsibility. Responsibility and self-discipline give you the freedom to be more spontaneous because you won’t risk abusing your freedom. When I lived in L.A., one morning while getting ready to go to work, I said to my wife, “Let’s go to Vegas.” She was surprised at first, but she was all for it, so we made a hotel reservation, packed a suitcase, and within less than an hour after getting the idea, we were on the road for the 4-hour drive from L.A. for a spontaneous 3-day Vegas trip, laughing much of the way there. Nothing was pre-planned, and we didn’t even tell anyone until after we’d arrived at the hotel. We had a fantastic time.

Sometimes it’s really nice to take advantage of the freedom of not having a job. I don’t know too many jobs that let you say to your boss a half-hour before you’re supposed to be at your desk, “My wife and I decided to have some fun for the next few days. Not sure when I’ll be back. See ya!”

The key is to balance the enjoyment of such freedom with responsibility, so you don’t end up developing a nasty procrastination habit. Being very responsible and on top of all your projects is what grants the extra freedom to be spontaneous with no negative consequences. When you’ve got everything well organized, you’re in a good position to know when you can be freely spontaneous vs. when it would be irresponsible or reckless to do so. In the words of Brian Tracy (paraphrasing), “Disorganized people aren’t spontaneous. They’re just confused.”

I think it’s interesting that there’s a project in the works to attempt to build a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast of the USA to balance the Statue of Liberty on the east coast. I hope this project succeeds because we could all use a reminder that responsibility and freedom go hand-in-hand.